The Bridgewater Canal isn’t the longest or most famous waterway in England, but it’s a vital link between the northern and southern canal networks, and is seen as the first “true” canal – created in the 1760s, it doesn’t follow the course of an existing river and, crucially, has no locks. It was once used to transport coal, but is now an ideal way to see a swathe of the Cheshire countryside and to enjoy a meal and a pint at some of the county’s most atmospheric pubs.
Here’s our round-up of the places worth stopping for: we’ve concentrated on the scenic stretch between the village of Moore and Altrincham.
The Red Lion, Moore
Moore Bridge, No 7
Heading out of Runcorn, the pretty village of Moore is perfect for a pause and a spot of fresh air after you’ve left the urban sprawl. You’ll have to walk from the towpath to this classy country inn, but we’re only talking a five-minute stroll through fields to the pretty village. The Red Lion’s exterior is reassuringly trad, with whitewashed bricks and a slate roof, but inside it’s more modish, with industrial lighting, artfully mismatched stools and banquette seats covered in flowery fabrics and blue leather. If there’s even a hint of sunshine, you won’t have to worry about the decor, as you’ll be sitting in the courtyard garden, which has covered seating and is dotted with hanging baskets. The Red Lion takes its food seriously, from lunchtime sandwiches to the homemade pie and a pint deal on Wednesday nights.
The Walton Arms, Higher Walton
Walton Bridge, No 11
You can see the fake-Tudor beams of this sturdy Victorian boozer from Walton Bridge, beckoning weary boaters with the promise of a warm welcome and copious refreshments. The Walton Arms doesn’t disappoint: there’s an open fire, a decent selection of guest ales, an upmarket wine list and a range of classic pub dishes with trendy twists such as chipotle mayo, triple-cooked chips and porcini mushrooms in the beef bourguignon. If that all sounds a bit fussy, plump for a stone-baked pizza or the hot beef brisket sandwich with dripping sauce and pickled pink onions. The Walton Arms is dog-friendly, and you can take your four-legged friend for a stroll in the grounds of Walton Hall, a five-minute walk from the pub.
The London Bridge Inn, Appleton
London Road Bridge, No 15
Wedged between the Bridgewater Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal, Stockton Heath is a foodie hotspot with dozens of pubs, restaurants and bars. What they can’t offer is waterside seating, and that’s where the London Bridge Inn comes into its own. Just across the Bridgewater Canal from Stockton Heath’s main drag, it has a shaded terrace where you can wave to passing boaters while enjoying a pint of MPA – Manchester Pale Ale – from the JW Lees brewery. The interior is cosy, with leather armchairs, tartan fabrics and a library corner, and the menu sticks to tried and tested staples. Ask for a “northern upgrade” to your beer-battered fish and chips and you’ll get bread and butter with curry sauce.
Or try: the Mulberry Tree Inn, a five-minute walk away in Stockton Heath, has a terrace in a prime people-watching spot and an Arts & Crafts fireplace. The Red Lion Inn, up the road from the Mulberry Tree, serves real ales from the excellent Thwaites brewery.
The Golden Fleece, Lymm
Lymm Bridge, No 23
If you’re only making one stop on your canal cruise, moor up in lovely Lymm, which can trace its history not just to the Domesday Book, but to the Triassic era – a chirotherium footprint was discovered here in 1842. There are plenty of gorgeous Georgian buildings in the centre of the village, many occupied by pubs and restaurants, but the Golden Fleece is a must for canal views from its beer garden: you can feed the ducks from the bar-style seating on the waterfront. Run by Greene King, it offers a standard pub menu and a great range of cask ales, including Tribute, Landlord and the locally brewed Cheshire Cat. Matthew Corbett, the Sooty and Sweep puppeteer, lived in the cottage across the canal.
Or try: Lymm has several pubs serving local real ales. The Bulls Head is a no-frills boozer that screens live sport and serves beers from Hydes, and the Brewery Tap is a former post office that serves ales from its own microbrewery: ask for a beer paddle if you want to sample several without getting squiffy.
Barn Owl Inn, Lymm
Burford Lane Underbridge, No 25A
We can’t promise that you’ll see an owl, but there are swans and herons for the spotting on the canalside opposite this pub east of Lymm, which overlooks open fields. On a clear day, you’ll see the gleaming new towers of central Manchester in the distance. The beer garden should be your first port of call if the weather allows, but the Barn Owl’s interior is light and bright, with good-sized windows to make the most of the views. This is a welcoming pub with a decent selection of real ales on tap, and the home-cooked food comes in generous portions.
Ye Olde No 3, Little Bollington
Agden Bridge, No 26
We’re not sure how olde this pub really is, but it probably acquired the unusual name in the 19th century, when alcohol licences were issued to numbered houses. It’s certainly been around long enough to acquire a couple of ghosts, including a woman who drowned in a nearby stream, and the decor veers towards the traditional, with a hint of granny’s parlour thanks to chintzy fabrics and crockery on wooden shelves. The centrepiece is an open fireplace for winter warming, and the beer garden offers views of canal boats on balmier days. There are real ales on tap and you can tuck into a homemade hotpot or a super-sized Sunday roast without breaking the bank – three courses cost less than a tenner on weekdays between noon and 6pm. Don’t moor up for a late dinner, though, as the kitchen closes at 8pm on most nights.
Swan with Two Nicks, Little Bollington
Bollington Underbridge, No 26A
The last pub on this list is a couple of miles from affluent Altrincham, famous for its food market and the point where the Bridgewater Canal heads into urban surroundings.The handsome red-brick building has been an inn since the 1740s, but there’s been an alehouse in the area since the Anglo-Saxon era and the name comes from a 16th-century pun about swan ownership (a nick is a mark on a cygnet’s beak, but can also mean neck). More importantly, it’s a cracking place for a meal to celebrate your journey, with real ale on tap and a menu of homemade hotpots, pies and ham hock terrines that uses fresh local produce – look out for specials on the blackboard above the bar. The Swan with Two Nicks has a beamed interior with an open fireplace, tables out front and a beer garden with decking – your dog is most welcome inside or out.